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Wellington Park visitors Wild about Wildlife

The Paddling Puppeteer engaged and entertained his audience.

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
Wellington was the first stop on Quinte Conservation’s Wild About Wildlife tour Thursday.

The free annual event encourages exploration of the environment, where little ones can learn about their natural surroundings and the creatures and plants that live in our region.

The opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy the fresh air at Wellington park included several hands-on interactive activities.

Whether it was checking out a dried snake skin under a microscope, identifying bugs in water or making a fossil impression, the activities kept children occupied and their curiosity piqued.

Children learn about some of the snakes at the reptile and amphibian display.

The live reptile display is always popular with the kids as they can touch and hold a variety of snakes. Reptile and Amphibian Advocacy (RAA) representatives were on hand to answer questions, share a few fun facts about reptiles, and teach the best way to hold a snake. The reps noted many people are unaware of the threats to native wildlife, and believe education is the foundation for successful conservation.

The milk snake, eastern fox snake, northern water snake, eastern hog-nosed snake and the blue racer snake were among those highlighted.

One of the turtles who greeted visitors to the reptile and amphibian display.

The RAA representative also explained that the only lizard found in Ontario is the five-lined skink. It is so named because of the five yellow or cream lines running down its black body; the lizard also has a very distinctive bright blue tail. The display also included a turtle and noted turtles found in Ontario also include the Midland painted turtle, the wood turtle and the eastern musk turtle.

Many children learned how to make a paper pot and took home a potted plant.

Those interested in learning more about the benefits of wildflowers and their role as pollinators were invited to make a paper pot and take home a flowering plant for their garden.

The musical puppet show captured little minds as they sat in the shade of a tree, enraptured by the whimsical stories about the environment, brought to life by a collection of colourful puppets and musical instruments. The Paddling Puppeteer, aka Glen Caradus, has been entertaining young children across Ontario and eastern Canada since 1999 with performances that teach how to preserve and restore natural heritage in a fun way.

Tiffany Empey with her peregrine gyr falcon hybrid.

Fans of birds of prey delighted in the two working birds Tiffany Empey brought with her. Empey works for Falcon Environmental Services which handles wildlife control at CFB Trenton using birds of prey as one of the most effective methods. Empey said the company also works out of Toronto’s Pearson airport and Montreal’s Trudeau airport.

“Our birds of prey ride right with us in the vehicle all day long,” Empey explained. “We let them out of the window; they soar and chase the birds off the runway, and back in the window again.”

The service they provide aims to avoid bird strikes with aircraft which Empey says can be a very serious problem.

“We do our best to eliminate the risk as it can cost a lot of money, and potentially can cause a plane to crash.”

The company has five staff, two of whom are seasonal, as Empey explained how the amount of birds throughout the year.

“We have three falcons and five hawks,” said Empey, who works with the same two birds all the time. She talked about how the birds of prey are different from other birds because they are carnivorous, noting their hooded beak and talons, and their excellent vision, all useful in hunting.

Empey works with a peregrine gyr falcon hybrid and two-year-old Harris hawk named Stephen Hawking, or Steve, for short.

The falcon Empey was holding was wearing a hood which she said keeps him calm as falcons tend to get a little more excited than hawks. And because he works on the airfield with her all the time, she said he isn’t used to seeing people around, especially little people which are different to him. Empey said the hood, which just sits on his head and doesn’t touch his eyes, comes off when he is working.

Empey later removed the falcon’s hood for a few minutes, explaining how stimulating the environment is for the bird because of all the people around.

“He’s normally on an open airfield with just birds,” she said.

Meanwhile, the educational tour in the park included bug identification, rock painting, fossils to be examined and identified and more. Whether it was giant water bugs, caddisflies, snails, aquatic moths or leeches there was a veritable assortment to be discovered and observed.

Finding fossils and learning about their history was one of the interactive activities.

The rock painting encouraged messages of kindness, and also helped identify ground-nesting bee sites. The educational giant jenga game –or eosystem jenga- showed how an ecosystem is a community of living things combined with the non-living components of their environment, interacting as a system, and demonstrated how the loss of one affects the others. An interactive model demonstrated the effects of flooding and pollution in a landscape devoid of trees and plants and how when more trees are planted they help with the impact of things such as flooding.

Another activity was making a nature mandala by collecting leaves, stones, flowers, seeds, shells and other items found in nature. The items are placed in any way to create a unique pattern. Crafting with nature also encouraged making other projects with items found in nature, such as stacking stones, or transient items using flowers and leaves. The scavenger hunt encouraged children to find four items, including something that smells good, an item the colour blue, an item that makes you happy and something that feels fuzzy.

The Wild About Wildlife tour continues this summer at Tweed and Erinsville in July, and Belleville, Madoc and Napanee through August.

Demonstrating the affects of flooding in a town devoid of trees.

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